Local photographer runs in front of the pros

June 21, 2012 · 3 minute read

Before you toe the starting line, Jesse Peters, already knows your high point in the race – where you will be feeling strong, smiling and enjoying yourself. How could he possibly predict this? It’s because he ran the entire course to stake out the best picture spots and fan gathering points in the woods of the James River Park System

“The course sweep lets me envision where I would want someone to take my picture looking my best.”

Peters is the slight, thoughtful-looking guy with the screaming day-glo sneaks and spiky blonde hair you see unassumingly snapping pictures at most outdoor athletic events held in Richmond. He is the go-to guy for running, mountain biking, Xterra, and other river-focused adventure sports. If it was not for him, your framed and matted Christmas gift for your sweetie would not be quite as nice.

Credit: Jesse Peters

Since the first time he secured a media pass to snap skateboarding photos at the now-transformed Dominion Riverrock (previously James River Adventure Games) Festival, the Metropolitan Richmond Sport Backers have hired Peters to capture the most exciting moments of many of the events they produce.

Peters’ biggest opportunity was being tapped for the once-in-a-lifetime World Duathlon Championships, overtaking Richmond city streets in 2007.

“I was still new to biking events. I had to ride on the back of a motorcycle balancing all of my equipment – it was pretty challenging, but I got the perfect up close shot of a racer on the Lee Bridge with the city skyline in the background.  They used it on a lot of the international press releases.”

Peters has proven he has an instinct for catching competitors looking their best.  At the June Xterra East Championships, he was asked to create a visual picture book of some of the pro athletes from their arrival in the River City through finish line victory.

“That’s the cool thing about top trail athletes – the access,” he said. “I was able to hang out at the family’s house where Melanie McQuaid (2012 female Xterra East champion) was staying and then catch her in action on the Buttermilk.”

Credit: Jesse Peters

Living less than a mile from the North Bank and Buttermilk Trails, Jesse knew where he would plant himself for the Xterra race, but didn’t expect all of the company.

“In Buttermilk Heights (South Side), there is this huge cliff, where the riders make a steep climb before turning.  It was me and forty guys, two of whom were dressed as Disney characters, and a propane gas grill. There were riders who could not have gotten up that climb otherwise without those dudes cheering them on.”

Without fully realizing it, Peters discovered he has long been “in training” for his current profession as a photographer. While at VCU, he attempted to major in filmmaking through the Theatre Department, only to shift to a philosophy degree after he was told that filmmaking was not an option. He then became a City of Richmond cop, while also managing race-day logistics and operations for the Richmond Roadrunners and Richmond Sportsbackers on the side. He had always pursed competitive triathlons and ultra-running races for fun, too.

Sportsbackers staff spotted his talent after viewing his amateur skateboarding action shots. His athleticism, experience with course operations, and a creative flair would produce something different from your standard auto shots in races.  They knew Peters would be able to uniquely capture the most exciting moments as the Richmond community gathered and competed in its urban outdoor playground.

“Those auto snapshot cameras in the big races always capture people in the worst stride stance – I want to shoot angles of racers that I know I would want for myself.”

While Peters continues to be the regional all-season action shot guru, he dreams of being invited to the Stanley Cup or a high profile boxing match. 

“I want to capture events where the atmosphere and background are just as important as what the athletes are experiencing….like when Muhammad Ali stood over Joe Frazier in victory in 1971.”

This dream is perhaps the inspiration behind his one-man company, Backlight Digital.

In an outdoor setting, through, Peters can’t think of a better backdrop than a meandering North Bank trail littered with fall foliage, stretched out behind you panting up the hill on your mountain bike…looking your best.